Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aachen and Cologne

We've had our first experience with a big European city! Our friends let him drive (for practice) to the train station in Geilenkirchen yesterday morning. We dropped off the car and boarded a train to Aachen. Aachen was very cool. We saw the Aachen Cathedral, final resting place of Charlemagne-- Crazy! I couldn't believe we were standing in a place that began construction in 792. How is it still standing? We can't build subdivisions today that last hundreds of years.

Our stay in Aachen was brief because we wanted to get as much time in Cologne as possible. We got on an ICE (Inter-City Express train) and began our 30-minute ride. The train was filled with Germans, of course, but we were standing across from a few French people who were drinking wine and having a great time. It was really interesting hearing boisterous German conversations next to exuberant French conversations. I was surprised that I remembered some French from college. I only understood enough to know when they were talking about food, and then when the conversation switched to what time they needed to be at the airport. That's still much more than I know in German at this point!

We arrived, exited the train station, and immediately rising grandly in front of us was the Cologne Cathedral. It was breathtaking! Standing in front of it was humbling. I can't believe structures like this actually exist.

We walked around inside for a few minutes, marveling at everything in front of us. Tourists were everywhere so we didn't feel out of place with our giant cameras around our necks. The history is stupefying; this is where remains of the Three Kings are enshrined.

We exited the Cathedral and it was blustery and cold so we decided to go to what seemed most logical: Gaffel am Dom, a beer hall!

(This photo is not the best quality because my camera is on its last leg. But no worries, another is on the way!)

This looked exactly the way I imagined. Lots of people were sitting at long tables drinking beer, eating wurst, laughing, and singing. It was great! We drank several traditional Kolsch and were on our way again.

We stopped at a couple more pubs (The Museum of Beer and an Irish place), saw the Lindt chocolate factory, and sat along the Rhine watching cruise ships. It was a great day and a good overview of what's in store for us next time we go.

We got back on the ICE and settled in for our trip back to Geilenkirchen. We were all tired but satisfied, and the ride home was relatively quiet. When it was time to depart, we all stood up and prepared to leave. For some reason the sliding doors we selected to walk through weren't opening automatically. I'm not sure if this is because the hour was late, we chose the wrong door, the door was broken; who knows? The notable thing about this situation is that our reactions to missing our stop were not sedate.

Our friend immediately tried to pry open the dysfunctional door. When that didn't work, two in our party began sprinting across several cars to try to find a door that opened. I turned around and since they were already gone, I stayed with our He-Man who was still attempting to open the door using willpower and brute force. Finally I heard my husband screaming, "Hurry up!! Hurry up!!!" Apparently they had found a door and were already on the outside of the train. We barreled through the train in a panic and flung ourselves out, breathing rapidly and acting as if the train itself catapulted us to safety.

The best thing about this was that all of the people we were passing as we ran hardly took any notice. They literally put their fingers on their books to hold their place and looked up at us as if they expected us to act exactly this way, and then went back to whatever they were doing as soon as we were off the train. Even the crowd we leapt into had no reaction. We were high-fiving and congratulating ourselves on not missing our stop, and I'm pretty sure the train sat there for another three or four minutes so it's unlikely we had to make that production in the first place.

Our day in a nutshell: Charlemagne, Three Wise Men, Kolsch and bratwurst, and a lively sprint from the ICE. Not bad for our first time in Cologne.

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